Welcome to the world of Triathlon……
A typical triathlon is three events. Starting with a swim, then a bike ride and finishing with a run. It is usually done in this order for safety reasons. Swimming isn’t something to be doing when the body is tired.
What equipment to bring:
Swim- swimsuit, goggles, towel (wipe your feet, sit on in transition area, dry off), sunscreen, possibly a bucket to rinse your feet off, wetsuit (not necessary if a pool swim), petroleum jelly (for your nipples, underarms, crotch (to prevent chaffing)), swim cap (though usually provided)
Bike- Helmet! bike shoes, socks, jersey or singlet, eye protection, water bottle, spare tire/tubes, tool kit, and a pump
Run- running shoes, sock, sunglasses, shirt, hat/visor
Misc.- Watch, race number, race information (course map), writing instrument, identification, money, first aid kit (though EMT usually at event), fluid replacement drink, energy food, Misc. warmer clothes. (Tights, jacket)
- As far as what to do during an actual race, experience is the best factor. Ask questions of the athletes around you. Here are some helpful suggestions.
- Plan and pack what you are going to wear and use during the race the night before. Create a checklist to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything.
- Arrive early enough to the race site so you can look around the course and the transition area. Leave more time than you think you will need for setting up in the transition area, warming up and waiting in line for the port potties (these lines can be long…and stinky!).
- Pool Swim – These starts will have 4 athletes per lane and you will complete 20 lengths of the pool (500m). Volunteers will be onhand to count your laps and will put a flutterboard in the water when you have 2 lengths remaining. Please ensure that you complete your estimated
swim time on the registration form. You will be assigned a wave # and start time which will be posted on the website, listed in your confirmation package, and posted at the race start.
- Open Water - Swim starts can be scary, especially if you are not used to swimming in crowds. Be prepared to be pushed, shoved even kicked or swam over. If you feel nervous about the close body contact, start off the side or the back of the pack. Buoy’s can be difficult to see
when you are in the water, not like looking at them from the shore line, so look up every once in a while to make sure you are swimming straight.
There is usually no place to change your clothes at Triathlon, so be prepared to bike and run in your swimsuit. If you are self conscious, bring a shirt to put on over your suit. Some women are uncomfortable if chesty. Wear a sports bra under your swimsuit.
- Next is the bike transition. Start thinking about what order you will put your gear on as you are exiting the water. Remember to buckle your helmet before you get on your bike.
- Help - I don't have a bike, or only have a mountain bike!
Clearly having no bike at all is a major hurdle to compete in a triathlon! However, getting any bike will do for your first event and some training you'll need to do before you compete. It is very common to hear people say, “I've only got a mountain bike.” You won't be the only one
riding a Mountain Bike and if you have good cadence (revolutions of the peddles) and a good peddle stroke, pull as well as push, then you can certainly go as fast as someone who doesn't, but has a road bike.
Clearly a real mountain bike with knobbly tires will cause you to slow down. The knobbles cause a lot of resistance, as does the width and pressure of the tyre. Look on the tyre wall and find the recommended pressure, if it gives a range then inflate it to the top of the range. A hard
tyre will be less comfortable than a soft one, but will have a lower amount of the tyre on the road. You might also want to consider buying slick tyres for your Mountain Bike.
- For the first KM or so on the bike, spin an easier gear. This is to get your legs used to going in circles instead of up and down like the swim. Get aerodynamic as soon as possible.
- Concentrate on the one person ahead of you. After you pass them, start going after the next person ahead of you. Avoid riding along side of someone at their speed – either pass or back off, as people have a tendency to group up and form packs. This is called drafting and is
illegal. Once caught you will be disqualified. You have 30 seconds to pass an athlete once you are in their ‘zone’ (3 bike lengths from their back tire).
- Make sure to drink fluids. Take a full water bottle with you on the bike and make sure it is empty by the time you start the run. For longer rides you may want to take two bottles with you.
- If the swim was long, you are probably already somewhat dehydrated and you will need to build your fluid up for the run portion.
- Starting the run your legs will probably feel heavy and stiff. Try shortening up your stride to get your muscles moving. Again, drink, drink, and drink… Most people cramp up or slow down not because they run out of energy, but because they dehydrate.
- The run is the final stage… Keep positive thoughts and finish strong…. Try to smile, you never know when a camera is on you.
Last but not least, have fun! Triathlons are only as hard as you make them. If you train properly, you’ll stay healthy, be competitive, and probably end up finding training is just as fun as racing.
The night before
- I used to worry about the lack of sleep I'd get the night before a race. Especially since you will inevitably have to get up early to get to the race, they often start very early to get people out on the road before the traffic etc. What research has shown is that it is not the night before the
race, but two nights before the race that is important. If you are racing on Sunday, go to bed early Friday, if you get a good rest then, it won't matter if nerves keep you awake or you have to get up early to get to the event.
- Now is a good time to make sure the car has fuel and is ready to go. No point in putting additional pressure on yourself driving around trying to find somewhere at the crack of dawn the next day! You might load up the car now, especially if you have a garage where it is safe to
leave a fully loaded car. On race day You might want to print this and take it with you on race day!
- Next, check what day you have to register! Races require you to register weeks before the event. Check if there is a registration cut-off. IE May 15! Or until the event fills!
- Before you go to registration, or after registering and before you go to the transition area, check your bike over. Tyres inflated? Wheel bolts done up? In an easy gear to start cycling? Handle bars straight? Saddle the right height? - In general, nothing moved or damaged in
transportation, its better to fix it here and leave your tools and pump behind in the car.
Once you've arrived at the event location, check out two things. One, where registration is; two where the transition area is. Most races require that you ‘check in’ to obtain any last minute information, get your body numbered (you will get to ‘strip’ in front of some stranger!...they’ll
require and arm and a leg)
- If you are even slightly shy, travel to the event in your race suit with some clothes that can easily reveal your upper arms and thighs. Second, make sure you know if you have any outstanding payment to make. This can happen for a number of reasons, especially at big events. Make sure you have sent in the appropriate amount or have paid at the pre-race package pickup.
Transition before the race
Most races have no fixed position on where to put your bike and stuff. If the choice is left to you, you can decide based on your own preferences, provided you turn up in time to have a choice. You might want to put your bike and equipment as close to the entry point where you run in from swimming - this helps you find your stuff when coming slightly confused and out of breath from the swim. Or as close to the exit point for the bike as you can. If transition is on concrete and you’re using cycle shoes with cleats... less chance of slipping over with shoes on!
- There are some rules about Transition areas. No nakedness, while this might be good fun, off with the swim suit, it’s actually against the rules... never seen anyone naked and therefore can't judge if it would be enforced; No marking your area. This means no flags, no balloons, no
chalk on the floor etc.
- So the trick is, find your space. Start by putting your bike on the rail/pole. Do this by either hanging the handlebars over the bar and trapping the space between the bars and the brake handles. Alternatively, reverse the bike in, lift the front of the saddle on to the bar.
- Having put your bike in, put the rest of your stuff down in reverse order. That is bike helmet down on the bars or the saddle, glasses on the helmet, finally your race shirt on the rear or front wheel.
Race numbers - You will have one race number. This needs to be clearly displayed, check the rules. Your best bet is to use a ‘race belt’. These can be expensive to buy ($15-$25), elastic belts with a clip fastener and special fixings to allow you to attach your race number(s). have it facing the back on the cycle, and the front on the run. You don’t need to swim with it!
- So, your bike, helmet, glasses, and top is in place. What’s next? Next I'd suggested claiming your piece of ground on one side of your bike. Lay a towel out as distinctive as possible. On top of the towel lay you running shoes, your bike shoes and any other gear.
- Many people put Vaseline or talcum powder in their running shoes and bike shoes to make it easier to get their feet in. Many also have elastic laces with lace locks for their running shoes.
- No tying laces when you come to running, just jam your feet in, pull and go. If you want to wear socks that's fine, it will slow your transition down either in T1 before the cycle, or in T2 before the run. You decide, but practice, your first race is no place to get blisters from old shoes
you've never worn without socks!
- The only other thing you may want to consider is if you are going to start the cycle with your shoes already mounted in the peddles. This really doesn't save a lot of time in a 1-hour race and even less in a 2-hour race, it also needs lots of practice.
- Leave your cycle and running shoes near the front of your towel but leave a few inches to stand on as you get there from the pool to dry the bottoms of you feet. Put talc or Vaseline on them now if needed, loosen your elastic laces, if you use lace locks.
Workout your entry/exit
This is sometimes the most complex part of a Triathlon. Where do you come from to get into Transition, once ready where do you go to get out? Is it the same for the bike and the run? Often you'll run in one end from the swim, run out with your bike, cycle back in another place, run out another... Now is the time to work this out. If in doubt ask, if the person you ask isn't sure, ask someone else... Also, find out where the bike mount and dismount points are.
- You won't be able to ride in and out of the transition area for safety reasons. Find out where you get on your bike and where you get off on your return. The last thing you need is someone yelling at you.
- Now is the time to have a last tinker around with things, anything out of place? Know where everything is? Forgotten anything? Don't be afraid to ask for things, triathletes seem to be naturally generous people, also there will often be local shops where you can get stuff easily and sports shops that have mobile expos at races for forgotten or lost goggles etc.
- Strictly against the rules, but often seen at smaller races, people leave their t-shirt, a towel and running shoes somewhere near the exit to the pool. While this isn't strictly against the, what is against the rules is having someone give you anything. This is classed as outside assistance
and you could be given a time penalty or disqualified.
Food, Drink, etc.
What do you do about food? Lots of opinions, lots of choices.
- For an standard/Olympic distance race many take an energy bar that they try and to eat half on the bike, the other half as they start the run. For drinks, don't be tempted to scrimp here.
- Water is useful before the race, but no real substitute for a "carbo" drink, especially for standard/Olympic distance races. There are many, many types of drinks. Most are supplied in powder form and you make the drink yourself.
- You should make sure you have two bottles, one to sip from before the race, during the race and the second for after the race.
Time to Start
- Check when you are due to start. This will normally be indicated on your race pack or posted at the start area. You should be registered, changed and ready to go at least 15-minutes before your start time. This will be especially important for your first couple of races. \
- Watch what goes on. How they are starting people, which direction people are swimming in pools, etc. etc.
- Again, it’s not clear that you can or cannot warm-up before you start the swim. You'll just have to watch what others do. Most open water swims have some scope to warm-up, most pool swims do not. If you cannot warm up in the water, at least loosen-up your shoulders and legs.
- Find your way to the start lane, entry point for outdoor swims etc. get your goggles ready and on. I make sure I put some water over my face, on the back of my neck etc., rinse my goggles in the water this seems to help get a better seal and also to reduce fogging. Finally, LISTEN for your instructions from the starter.
Out of the Swim
- Most pool races will have people to count lengths, as you get to the end of your lengths, typically 400m but sometimes 750m, there will be someone to signal that you have 2-lengths to go. Irrespective of what you make the count, now is the time to go for it and finish the swim as best you can. For some, this may mean easing down a little. If it’s a pool swim you'll be expected to haul yourself out of the pool, if its an open water swim, there will almost always be someone to help you. The exception to this seems to be races where the swim ends on the beach...
- Once out of the water watch as you run to Transition-1 (T1 be careful running indoors not to slip, also watch for any temporary mats as these may also become slippery when wet.
- Somewhere between getting out of the water and getting into the transition area there will be someone to take your number or you will cross a timing mat, if you know where they are, make sure you get recorded by calling out your number as you pass.
- For an open water swim with wetsuit you have a couple of options once you are out of the water on where to take off your wetsuit. Again, practice makes perfect and it is something to have a look at and decide before you start the race. Most people will run, and while running remove the top half of their wetsuit. Zip undone, arms out, body of the suit pulled down, the when in transition you can step out of one leg, stand on the leg of the wetsuit and pull the other leg out. The alternatives to this are to find somewhere quiet just after you get out of the water, stop and take the wetsuit completely off and then run to T1. The final alternative is just to run flat out to T1 and completely remove your wetsuit there. What ever you decide to do, make sure you understand how your wetsuit does up, what overlaps what, where the zip is etc. If possible, look at a the same wetsuit on someone else, when it comes to taking yours off, picture the back of the suit in your mind as you undo it.
- As you run into T1, concentrate on what you have to do now... don't worry about what youhave to do in 3-mins, 5-mins. how well you did on the swim etc..
- Find your bike, throw you swim goggles down, first shirt, then shoes, then helmet. You must, must, must put your helmet on and fasten it up before moving your bike at all. Put glasses on (if needed) take your bike and head for the exit from T1. There will almost always be a formal mount line, you should have established this prior to the start.
On Your Bike
- At all times on the bike section please take the utmost care. Watch what you are doing, where you are going, just because you are in a race is no excuse to take a gamble with the roads and other road users. Try to drink. It is better to sip than gulp. Watch for Marshals, especially at traffic lights. If the light is red and you don't stop you will get disqualified, but worse than that you could get hurt!
- Another rule that will be new to you in Triathlon is drafting. In essence, imagine a zone, 3-metres wide by 10-metres long. You cannot get inside the zone of the rider in front unless you are overtaking. If overtaking then you get 30-seconds to complete, if you can't you have to drop back outside the zone. Once passed, it is the overtaken riders responsibility to drop back out of the draft zone.
- This is a firm Triathlon rule for pretty much everything but elite/professional races where drafting is allowed.
- Drafting is monitored by "Draft Busters" on motorcycles, If you are caught drafting you will be subject to a two-foot penalty. Which means you have to come to a stop, get off your bike and put both feet down. Drafting is considered a "religious" issue in Triathlon by those who started the sport, it's not just cheating!
- As you return to the start point you will be required to dismount at a specific point. Triathlon rules say this is a 3-metre zone, which strictly means you need to be off your bike completely within 3-metres of the dismount line.
- You can run or walk from there to your rack in transition..
- Once you are in T2 make sure you rack your bike before undoing and removing your helmet.
- After that it’s a quick change of shoes, maybe grab a drink and off you go. The run is the least complex part of Triathlon, just make sure you know where you have exit the transition area.
Run for your life
- Not much to say or add here. If this is a standard/Olympic distance event then you might want to take a drink bottle along with you and possibly an energy gel or bar, if you are just an average athlete it is likely to be 2.5-3-hours before you finish a standard distance event (half that for a sprint or shorter!), that's really hard work and you will not only get hungry and weak but you will be exhausting your energy reserves by the end.
- What ever you eat/drink on the run, do try it out before hand, don't use the race for practice.
- Also, don't be ashamed to walk if get really tired. When you finish it won't be important that you walked or not, you will be in a very, very elite number of people who've managed to complete this type of endurance event.
- Walking just gives you something to improve on next time!
- Again, some basic things to do here. Before the race when checking out transition you should have established when you could remove your gear/bike etc.
- Don't be surprised if there is a long wait at big races.
- At smaller races it shouldn't be a problem, just make sure that you watch out for people still competing! Most races will only let you in and out of transition with a race number that matches the one on your bike! Even if you can't remove your gear straight afterwards, now is a good time to collect up your stuff and pack your bag.
- You are then free to hangout and soak up the atmosphere, especially if you got an early start, many of the fastest competitors will still be out on the course and it really is a great sight to see really fast people racing at the end of an endurance race!
- Many races will have product Expo's or at least some vendors with stands full of Tri gear.
- Many races also offer very reasonably priced pre/post massage. A great way to wind down after a race!
So, your first race is over. What was the most important part of the race? Actually one of the most important parts of the race are all the volunteers and organisers who put the race on, without them you couldn't have done it. Take the opportunity to shout thanks to them as you pass them on the ride and the bike, find an organiser after the race and simply tell them "thank you". If something goes wrong during or after the race, with the race or the results etc. Keep your cool. No matter how upset you are, no matter how important the race was for you, it was more important to them for it to go right for everyone. Try to resolve any problems or issues by asking reasonable questions, not by making unreasonable demands or assertions. If you have comments, or suggestions, please let the organizers know in a CONSTRUCTIVE manner.